Evolution of Diet

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The diet of the American citizen began as that of any other individual in colonial society, “habitual nourishment” based on regionally and seasonally available food stuffs. Settlers brought recipes, heritage cooking methods, and a survivalistic perspective of food culture upon entering North American society. Nonetheless, the foundation of modern dieting was soon to be laid.

In 1840’s Antebellum society, a Presbyterian Minister by the name of Sylvester Graham began advocating a plain, abstinent diet as a means for health and moral improvement. Preaching to the Presbyterian ideal of holistic piety, Graham was admired for such statements as ‘Spices, stimulants and other over indulgences lead to indigestion, illness, sexual excess and civil disorder”. His followers, known as “Grahamites”, followed a strict diet regimen of bread made with coarse ground grains, vegetables, and water which was thought to regulate immorality. His Science of Human Life acted a formal guide to such dietary reform, providing recommendations to assuage a wide array of ailments (Graham). Rather than a means of sustenance, diet had become “a regimen of eating and drinking sparingly so as to reduce one’s weight” (Diet).

The high protein, low carb Banting diet of the 1860s represents the second of countless shifts in dietary advice. Battling a lifelong state of obesity chiefly without institutional aid, William Banting, an undertaker, sought to popularize his systematic weight loss approach, conceived by a certain Dr. William Harvey, which centered on restricting intake of carbohydrates from starchy or sugary sources (Banting). Banting is infamous for equating corpulence with physical disabilities fostering a sense of shame in relation to fat. With weight as a motivator, diet had further become a means of self-control.

In the late 19th century, brothers John Harvey Kellogg, a medical professional, and Will Keith Kellogg, an entrepreneur, processed wheat into flakey sheets of dough as a means to create a food product which would appeal to the vegetarian diet adopted by the Adventist church. A decade earlier, the church had founded a health spa in Michigan called the Battle Creek Sanitarium where the Kellogg brothers were allowed to experiment with food products and meal plans.

Similar to the conviction of Sylvester Graham, John marketed the notion that “Highly seasoned [meats], stimulating sauces … and dainty tidbits in endless variety, irritate [the] nerves and … react upon the sexual organs” (Our Best Days). In 1906, Will convinced his brother to commercialize their cereal product; the Kellogg’s quickly set the ‘corn flakes’ into mass-production as a means of reaching American consumers beyond their patients at The Battle Creek Sanitarium. By 1914, Kellogg’s cereal had spread beyond the American food market and entered into Canadian cuisine as a “great-tasting, better-for-you” dietary supplement. Word of the shift in understanding of an individual’s diet had spread to the masses.

In 1980, the first Dietary Guidelines for Americans was published by the Department of Health and Human Services and the Department of Agriculture. Interrelated publications included the surgeon general’s Healthy People, a report on health promotion and disease prevention, and the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Food, a journal on food and nutrition, both of which were funded by the partisan federal government and private corporations. These Dietary Guidelines are quinquennially distributed to “public health agencies, health care providers, and educational institutions” influencing nutrition politically, economically and socially in the United States (Food). Diet is no longer privately dictated but rather an issue perceived as warranting public oversight.

The major paradigms of the meaning of the word diet reflected in these historical shifts are indicative of the American cultural climate of their times. Despite other societal advancements, the modern American understanding of “diet” is still evolving.


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Evolution of Diet. (2021, Aug 15). Retrieved from https://samploon.com/evolution-of-diet/



How did diet affect evolution?
It is thought that diet has played a role in human evolution. For example, early humans who ate more meat and fat had an advantage over those who ate mostly plants.
How did diet start?
The first diets were created over 2,000 years ago by the Greek physician Hippocrates. He believed that all diseases were caused by an imbalance of the four bodily fluids: blood, black bile, yellow bile, and phlegm.
How did food evolve?
Food evolved from single-celled organisms to the complex, multi-celled plants and animals that we see today. This evolution took place over billions of years, with food becoming more and more complex as time went on.
What are the 4 types of diets?
Football is important in our life because it brings people together and it is a fun way to stay active.
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